To Photoshop Or Not To Photoshop?

To Photoshop Or Not To Photoshop?

2011-12-09 23:05 | Comments: 9

Pros and Cons of photoshopping — Kim Kardashian Before/After photo via a photo retouching demo by Eric Kee and Hany Farid from Dartmouth College.

Photo credit: Complex Magazine via Befter

Kim Kardashian Before/After Photoshop

Warning: This photo has been digitally retouched.

Hi, should photos in advertisements be labeled that they have been digitally retouched?

I recently read an interesting article about two computer scientists from Dartmouth, who have written a tool (and developed a metric) to measure how much a photo has been retouched.

They do it by comparing the final to the original photo and proposed a scale from 1 (slightly retouched) to 5 (drastically retouched).

To demonstrate their results, they have set up the following informative Web page showing celebrities BEFORE and AFTER being photoshopped. By clicking on the Toggle button you can switch between the BEFORE / AFTER view and see what has been done to the photos. Notice also how the anatomy/geometry has been changed to make parts of the body smaller/larger.

Inspired by the discussion their work triggered, I have thought about the Pros and Cons of photoshopping and possible solutions to the dilemma, to photoshop or not to photoshop?

Just to be clear, I use "to photoshop" here as a general term and synonym for "to retouch a photo" by the means of any photo processing program. (I personally use PaintShop Pro but I like the term anyway.)

Pro Photoshopping

  • Photoshopping is art.
  • Aesthetically pleasing pictures are nice to look at.
  • It can make crappy, underexposed photos useful.
  • Removing blemishes, wrinkles and flabs is flattering.
  • Editing photos is fun.
  • Portraits, sculptures and paintings of human beings have always been and will be idealized for the good or bad.

Contra Photoshopping

  • Photoshopping is a lie.
  • It creates a false and unrealistic body image.
  • Seeing only perfect models on drastically retouched pictures can lower one's self-esteem, cause eating disorders and build unnecessary pressure to conform to the advertised ideals.
  • Advertising makes use of retouching and editing to manipulate our perception and desire.
  • Editing is tedious and time consuming.

Possible Solutions for the Photoshop Dilemma

To photoshop or not to photoshop?

Mandatory labeling of retouched photos in magazines/advertisements

Since all photos are digitally processed nowadays a warning label such as "This photo has been digitally processed." is sort of useless. As proposed in the article an improved labeling system would include the degree of how much a photo has been altered. But then again, I am not a fan of such labels and I think it is not the real solution. If an ad is not truthful enough and entirely fakes the look of a product it should not be allowed in the first place.

Educate yourself and others

Best way is to tell people that practically all photos (and movies) are retouched nowadays. I think a lot of young and tech-savvy folks know this already. In times of the iPhone, Instagram & Co. and the fact that every smartphone has a decent camera (not just the iPhone), it has never been easier to make good looking photos.

Be critical

Develop a critical eye what has been done to a photo. Compare product pictures to the real product to see the difference. Models too, while pretty, are not that perfect as they look on their photos. Remind yourself every day that you are beautiful and like yourself such as you are!

Defeat the system on its own ground

Angelina Jolie does it, Georgy Clooney does it, so why not doing it as well? Simply make great pics of yourself too! Ask a good friend or a professional photographer. Joining a photography class or starting your own fashion blog can help too ;) Learn at least one serious photo editing program, such as GIMP, Photoshop (Elements) or Corel PaintShop Pro.

Keep the photoshopping reasonable

The title says it already, I prefer the more natural look, but also love to tone and slightly edit my pictures. Be creative, play around, but try to not overdo it.

Don't bother too much

Last but not least, don't bother too much about the glossy photos of others. All that glitters is not gold. Be confident and develop your own (photo) style!

A Perceptual Metric for Photo Retouching

Demo Web page
Photo Retouching Demo by Eric Kee and Hany Farid

Further reading
Eric Kee and Hany Farid. A Perceptual Metric for Photo Retouching. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011.

Related stories
Beauty Ideals At World Press Photo 10
The Photography Business & The American Dream
The TECH behind Miss Viki

Comments ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

I absolutely agree with you: All the glitter is not gold. I would say "use photoshop responsibly"

Interesting read! I very much dislike flagrant retouching - so many bad commercials do it these days, and it looks downright creepy. I don't really mind the use of photoshop to slightly enhance a picture, but I often don't see the need. For instance, the picture of Angelina Jolie in the article of the Times you link to. She looks stunning in the original picture, but plastic in the edited version. I honestly don't understand why people think that's prettier? I like my celebrities to resemble humans, thank you very much.

The Quirky Poet on 2011-12-16 17:15

This was such a good read!

I love all your advice. I definitely agree that if we change our perception of the photographs and understand that they are edited, we will have a healthier perspective.

Great post...thanks for sharing!

Had no clue Photoshopping can alter the image to look so genuine. very informative article.

great post

some photoshops definitely help

Came over from IFB Links a la mode and am so glad I did! This is a well thought-out post on an important topic. I work with young girls, many of whom have magazine images of models and celebrities taped all over their notebooks. A large number of these images are photoshoped and not realistic...but try telling that to a 12-year old girl.

New to your blog and love it!

XO - Marion

Jenna B. on 2013-02-18 22:52

I think photoshop does help some images, but it dehumanizes the models and subjects of the distortions. Its unnecessary.

great read it really helped in my essay! I am a almost professional photographer and think there is no need for photoshop!

Add ❤ comment:

Share your love, thoughts and secrets, leave a comment: